The Writer’s Life (#1)

I have always been fascinated with the way writer’s write. I am curious about their the writing schedules, habits, superstitions they adopt. When Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 every page that he typed had to be perfect. If there was a single typo – even a misplaced period – he retyped the whole page. (This was the 1950s.) This perfectionism accounts for the eight years it took to write the book. From time to time I will be sharing anecdotes from the writing lives of great writers.

Many people who would like to write don’t do so because they are convinced they don’t have the time. Actually, with a little effort, it’s possible to carve out time to write in even the busiest schedule. J. K. Rowling wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series while her baby was napping and in other spare moments over a period of five years. In this way she doggedly crafted Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The writer Nicholson Baker wrote his novel A Box of Matches sitting before a fire in the early hours of the morning. He described the experience in an interview with the Paris Review, illustrating how creating a time and place to write led to the completing of a book without any kind of plan:

I had a lot to do during the day then. Margaret [his wife] and I had opened the American Newspaper Repository in the next town, in an old mill building, and people were coming in to look at the newspaper volumes. I was a sort of cultural administrator during the day. I found that starting and nurturing this tiny early flame helped me to concentrate—there’s something simple and pleasantly meditative about building a fire at four in the morning. I started writing disconnected passages, and the writing came easily. I wrote a big pile of pages, way too many, and it wasn’t very finished. So I put it away for a year, then went back and cut it down and rewrote it all. I didn’t know that it was going to be a book about a guy sitting at a fireplace [the basic plot of the novel]. But in the end it didn’t seem as if that was the wrong way to do it. I was so delighted to be able to start every chapter with “Good morning.”

You can read the interview here.